With all the recent focus on bathroom access for transgender individuals, it is interesting to note that there is another fight in the gender fluidity world: a push to end a practice in the medical culture of performing gender assignment surgery on infants born with genitalia that don’t quite meet definitions of typically male or typically female bodies.
In the past, we used the now-considered derogatory pejorative term hermaphrodite to describe what is now, more appropriately termed “intersex”. Like the outdated term, the current medical paradigm is also based on outdated medical theories popularized in the 1960s, states Kyle Knight, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Doctors perform surgery on intersex children – often in infancy – with the stated aim of making it easier for them to grow up “normal.” Knight tells Bellyitch. “The fact that it is being challenged now is rooted in patients’ rights advocacy, understandings of bodily autonomy, and in part due to an opening up of dialogues about gender and sexuality. Much of the desire to make intersex people’s bodies ‘normal’ was rooted in homophobia—in that, a vagina had to be deep enough to take in a penis, a clitoris couldn’t be so big that it looked like a penis, etc. Those are not medical reasons, but biased interpretations of what a ‘normal’ body is.”
Knight’s organization recently released a report with InterACT, a group advocating for intersex youth, aimed at educating the public on surgeries on intersex children deemed “unnecessary” and that urges Congress to ban the practice.
Essentially, the procedures were the traditional and common way of dealing with children born with sexual characteristics that do not neatly align with a typical boy or girl.
But HRW and InterACT’s argument is that before rearranging anatomy in medically unnecessary procedures to fit into the “normal” construct, parents should be informed and should wait until a child is old enough to have a say in the decision.
As Associated Press recently reported, the practice is actually now under “assault” as the American Medical Association is currently considering a proposal to discourage it. Also, according to that news report, three former U.S. surgeons general say it’s unjustified.
AP also references the Human Rights Watch report which calls “the results” of these surgeries “catastrophic” and asserts they “can inflict irreversible physical and psychological harm.”
The surgeries carry the risk of nerve damage, scarring, decreased sensitivity when adults and more.
And if you ever wondered whether some transsexual adults may have been intersex at birth but were operated on as a child to remove aspects of their true gender, then a recent out-of-court settlement may prove your hunch to be true.
This week, a family reached a $440,000 settlement against the Medical University of South Carolina for operating on their adopted son at 16-months old to look like a girl. Their son, M.C., now identifies as a boy.
There is also support groups out there for parents of intersex kids, the biggest one is AIS-DSD.
Members include some of Faith who decide against surgery because of their faith.
“Parents come to the conclusion to push back on surgery from a number of different perspectives—some say God made their baby perfect, God doesn’t make mistakes, and doctors should not try to play God with their child’s body,”he offered. “Others understand that while their child may transition in their gender identity later in life, the best support and care they can provide for their infant has nothing to do with adult gender identity and everything to do with love and support just like any other kid.
“Support groups and connections with other parents in similar situations is a crucial resource. Parents are understandably confused and afraid—there are daunting social situations in the immediate and on the horizon—but there is good advice out there, it’s just a matter of doctors referring to these groups and not bludgeoning parents with threats of hypothetical social outcomes like bullying and ‘middle school locker room’ teasing instead.”
This video shares the stories of two intersex children and give more insight on the campaign to stop surgeries on intersex children in infancy. Check it out.